Your Gray Suit’s New Brown Shoes

Break away from the everyday and pair your slick gray suit (you took our advice, didn’t you?) with a classic pair of brown shoes for a traditional look that stands out in today’s black shoe kind of world.

I’m just going to come out and say it: you should own a gray suit. I will even go as far as if you’re only going to own one suit, it should be gray.

Especially if you’re a guy who is lucky enough to have multiple suits, then you should definitely have a gray suit.

A gray suit is your most versatile suit in your dress clothes armory.  There are no occasions I can think of where it would be inappropriate for a normal guy to wear a gray suit instead of say, a black suit, except a funeral.  Job interviews, weddings, client meetings, fancy dates, if you don’t have to wear a tuxedo, then you’ll be set with a gray suit.

But why a gray suit? What makes it so much better?

A black suit is the equivalent to the blue dress shirt, it’s the first dress shirt every 17 year old kid gets.  The reason they get a blue dress shirt first is because it’s good of course, it looks good on everyone and it’s not plain like a white dress shirt can be. That’s the same reason many guys start out with the black suit. It looks good on everyone.

It’s safe. It’s modest. You can’t go wrong with a black suit. And that’s true!

But is that what you want out of your personal style? To wear something that every guy wears because it’s safe?

This isn’t to suggest a gray suit is flashy by any means, it’s arguably just as conservative — BUT — every guy you know isn’t wearing one already. If you’re reading Primer, that means you are the fringe of our age group. You’re a smart guy who cares about becoming the best you can in all aspects of life. You care about self-improvement, getting fit and staying in shape, maintaining a long-term relationship, spending money wisely while not missing out, excelling in your passions, and moving up in your career. Think about five normal guys that are in your life right now. If you can say the same thing about all five, that’s incredible.

It’s tough to say but most guys our age just don’t put the same thought into some parts of life as you and I. I’m not suggesting they’re any less of a man or anything like that. We just think more forwardly than most.

Imagine going to a wedding.You’re standing around the bar at the reception with a few of your old friends. What are they wearing?

Black suit, black suit, charcoal suit, black suit, navy pinstripe if you’re lucky. But you, my good man, you stand out in your gray suit. Not in a flashy way. In a “wow, he looks good” way.

Most guys consider gray to be “light black.” Because of this they opt for black shoes. It’s a good look, but a little standard issue.

A gray suit is way more versatile than that. You can wear black shoes, and it looks good. You can also wear a ton of different shades of brown shoes that you can use appropriately depending on where you’re going and look even better.

Don’t think brown dress shoes aren’t versatile either — they look just as great with a navy suit if you happen to have one.

If you’ve got a nice suit, pair it with some nice shoes.

Something I’ve always thought was funny is how guys will spend a few hundred dollars on a suit, get it tailored, and then wear $35 dress shoes that they picked up on sale. You’ll hear style guys say the devil is in the details, but this is a big one.

Even just looking at these pictures, you can tell these shoes are nice. Not flashy — in fact pretty classic and conservative — but the details of quality all represent themselves.

There are few material things a man should invest good money into. A solid watch, firearm, tools, and traditional, non-fad shoes can all last a lifetime and represent more than some of the other ‘of-the-moments’ that we consume and discard.

Allen Edmonds shoes are definitely one of those things. I’m a big fan of quality goods made right here in America. Most things aren’t anymore, but what I’ve found is the goods that still are usually have a higher level of care and craftsmanship.

Made in America since 1922 and based in Port Washington, almost all of the shoes by Allen Edmonds are made in Maine and Wisconsin, with a few pairs made in Italy. Allen Edmonds originally provided shoes to soldiers during World War II, and upon returning home these heroic gentlemen continued to be lifelong customers.

Even as little as a year ago, I would have seen a $300 price tag on a pair of shoes and scoff at how unnecessary they are. After all, I could get six pairs of $50 shoes for the same amount of one pair of Strands.

That’s certainly true. But these aren’t more expensive because you’re paying for a brand name like other areas of clothing and fashion, or because they’re made out of some unnecessarily rare animal skin — these shoes are the works of craftsman, with materials meant to last.

It’s understandable if you don’t have a lot of disposable income at the moment, none of us do the first few years out of college. What you need to see is, as an investment, these can literally last you a lifetime.

Most men grow out of the $14-replace-it-when-the-face-falls-off watch, and eventually invest in something greater. I still have my first $100 watch, and I bought it 10 years ago. I’ve replaced the battery a few times, had it cleaned and it still works great.

This is no different; every guy should have a good pair of dress shoes, ones not intended to last two years, but for many to come.  There are stories circulating style forums that a pair of Allen Edmonds can last 30 years, plus.

That’s not to say they’re going to look just as new when you’re 60 as they did fresh out of the box, but taking advantage of their Recrafting service can make them practically new again. For the price of your typical wear-em and toss-em shoes, your Strands can be rebuilt with new soles, leather, cork and refinished, set to last you another several years. New $300 shoes for only $90. Boom.

Plus, as you know, the ladies–they love their shoes, but don’t assume that they only care about high heels. I gave my Strands a test drive at a wedding a few weeks ago and definitely got a number of compliments from a few of them.

If you don’t have a gray suit yet, I encourage you to consider it for your next one. If you do, pair them with some good ol’ American-made brown dress shoes.

Give Allen Edmonds’ Strands a look-see.  You can check out the gray suit I have at Indochino.


Two readers have contacted me about their experience with Allen Edmonds shoes.

Chris (@speedmaster) had an impressive account of AE’s customer service, resulting in a new “customer for life.” Check out the story on his blog, Amateur Economist.

Also, Robert (@robert_the_red) sent over the picture below testifying to AE’s durability. He’s had these black wingtips since he was 14. They’re an amazing 20 years old, and look incredible!



Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

  • Noslot

    I a absolutely love my gray suit! It was the second suit I bought, the first I had tailored, and all the time I get compliments, from the ladies and the guys. I love the versatility for what goes with it shirt and shoes-wise, as well a that I stand out in a not-so-flashy way. Probably the best investment I have made so far.

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  • Andrew

    Noslot, I completely agree! I bought my first gray suit last year, and have been in love with it. Makes me wonder how I got along without one. Thanks for reading!

  • Paul

    I always thought the rule regarding dress shoes was “Never brown in the town”… or maybe that’s just one of our old British ones…

  • Andrew

    Hey Paul, I don’t even know what that means? :) Don’t wear brown dress shoes when going into town?

  • Steven

    I definitely rock my gray suit with my brown AE cap toes. I think my two pairs of brown shoes (the other being Cole Haan) are more versatile an stylish than my AE Park Avenues in black.

  • TheStyleGent

    Great article. Thanks for showing gents the options when pairing gray & brown. Adding suede to the mix gives some depth as well. I’m a big fan of Colehaan. Whether you wear a light, medium or charcoal gray suit, brown shoes always up your style game. I bought a pair of chocolate suede slip-ons from them 5 years ago and use their refurbish program to keep them in tip top shape.

  • Andrew


    That’s awesome! So you’ve got two pair AE’s? Lucky!


    Absolutely, I’m glad you liked it! The chocolate sued slip-ons sound really nice. How has your experience with the refurbish program been?

  • Mark Shuttleworth

    Very good advice here. Buy the best you can afford and it will usually last a lifetime. I have a 1950’s Omega Seamaster that still looks great and keeps perfect time. I really think that a good quality mechanical Swiss watch and a good pair of (conservative) shoes are the hallmark of a gentleman. Believe me guys these these are two things that always stand out.
    As for the grey suit, well as the man says you can wear one anywhere and look good with out looking over dressed. A pin stripe suits looks great, but it’s a business suit.

  • Mark Shuttleworth

    Gentlemen, brown shoes are fine in the city but should not be worn in the evening or for anything formal. They really are for more casual wear. Of course I am speaking as an Englishman. I think that in the States one can get away with more.

  • anotherjames

    Andrew?! “you can’t go wrong with a black suit”?! What is this madness?! Unless it’s a tux, a true black suit is only safe and modest if you’re the chauffeur or the waiter.

    But that grey suit is the best and those brown leather kicks make it even better.

    Also, my suit from Indochino arrived.

  • Andrew

    AnotherJames, I stick to my point. In today’s world the black suit is standard. When a 17 yo guy gets his first suit, I bet 80% of the time it’s black. Show up to even a summer wedding and there will be people in the audience wearing black suits. I’m not suggesting that it’s the best option, but a black suit does seem to be the default go-to.

    • Chris Jones

      Weddings and funerals, and 17 year olds who don’t know better. Those are pretty much the only situations a black suit should be worn.

  • Torrey

    That’s funny that you mention this because I’ve always preferred wearing brown shoes with gray suits. Good post

  • Andrew

    Thanks Torrey!

  • Anotherjames

    @Andrew. Haha are we taking our style leads from 17 year olds now? :)

  • Andrew

    Haha who else!? I guess my point is coming from what I see most of the time, versus what most should do.

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  • Alessandro

    … I am italian, can agree on everything but gray suit at weddings … no way here would be accepted.
    Neither after sunset. Sun goes down, dark suit, dark shoes, no questioning if is about style we are talking. In all other occasions I may welcome your comment.

  • Alessandro

    P.S: In European style etiquette (Brit, Italian) the pair of sox in the pictures won’t be accepted. 1 colour for sox, matching the suit.
    Give the shoes a honorable pair of sox, otherwise will loose importance.
    These are kid’s sox.

  • Andrew

    You can’t wear argyle socks in Europe? That sucks. Every major designer makes them.

  • Alessandro

    Ahh ahh Andrew, yes you can… depending what you want to make out of your personality. Fact that designers make them doesn’t mean they are considered stylish over here :) LOL

  • Adam

    Unfortunately Allen Edmonds shoes have a very stubby/clunky profile… it’s like they’re designed to make your feet look shorter. British & Italian makers of similar price points and quality make better looking shoes that don’t make size 10 feet look like size 6. The AE Executive Collection has a much better shape to it, looks really good… unfortunately they only have a handful of styles in that line,and only 1 or 2 in Walnut (their light brown)

  • Andrew

    Adam, you think the shoes above look clunky? I couldn’t disagree more, these are some of the slimmest shoes I’ve owned. I’m a size 11ish and I don’t feel like it makes my feet look small.

  • Alessandro

    @ADAM: mmhh i can agree on that for some AE models, but … there are some points to keep in mind. First of all, italian shoes do look slimmer but because they don’t have a goodyear sole. Usually Italian makers don’t do that, to make the foot slimmer (as the french).
    AE are “heavy” shoes, more like english style, if you take Church’s for example they are the same.
    Thus AE are handmade, and this makes the left different from the right, which consists in an added value.
    Basically I think you judge them (with all respect to your taste of course) when you buy AE, you are not buying the “best” man’s shoes, but surely a good pair for that price. Confortable & stylish enough.
    For higher price you can get John Lobb, but is another music, for your feet and for your wallet!
    Have a good one, and enjoy thank’s giving over there!

  • Alessandro

    Errata corrige:
    […] you judge them too severely […]

  • What Should Men Wear

    Great mixing-and-matching with the grey suit and brown shoes. Couldn’t help noticing the choice of socks as well!

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  • Grif

    Y’know, I’ve never actually owned a black suit. I have a navy pinstripe suit and a medium-charcoal suit, and I tend to wear black shoes with both.

    However, I have a pair of R.M. Williams boots in their classic Chestnut colour (i.e. the mid-brown everyone thinks of when they think of RMWs) but I’ll confess that I don’t often team them up with either of my suits—they’re mostly used for stomping around in a pair of Levi’s. Best made shoes I’ve ever had, and once they’re worn in a little they’re very comfy. Furthermore, the maker has a policy of re-soling the boots for free (though that might be for customers in Australia only), no questions asked, for as long as the uppers last. A pair of uppers can last as long as you can with enough care, and as long as you’re sending them back to the maker for new soles every 10 to 15 years, you can literally wear them until the day you die.

    Anyway, my real purpose here was to tell a story. I worked in business wear (mostly men’s) for about three years, at various stores and as everything from junior sales assistant and bootlicker up to assistant manager. Every day, I wore black shoes with my suit, or the boots and some dun chinos on the weekends. One day (when I was the Asst. Mgr., actually), a rep for one of our tie manufacturers came in to see how the new season’s gear was going. Lovely guy, and almost impossibly stylish. He was wearing a navy suit and dark brown shoes—nothing particularly outrageous, and in fact quite conservative—but my mind was just completely blown. I’d always thought brown shoes and blue suits were against some kind of fundamental law.

    So, having read this article and learned that brown shoes with grey (or blue) suits are not just for the impossibly stylish or the woefully unstylish, I’m going to endeavour to wear brown shoes (or boots) with my suits more often.

  • Andrew

    Grif, thanks for the comment! I’m glad you’re going to give it a try! I think you’ll like it.

  • Scotty Dont

    I absolutely love my newly acquired AE Strands. I also went with a 3 piece ultimate gray suit from Indochino. Props for a great look Primer.

  • Andrew

    Scotty, great choice! I’m glad you like it. :)

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  • Bill Malone II


    Brown shoes and grey or blue suits most certainly match. Be sure to match light suits with light shoes and dark with dark. Try a navy blue suit with chocolate brown suede shoes. Or try the same shoes with a dark grey suit. Standout dressing guys. I own about 20 pair of Allen Edmonds shoes. Some are over ten years old and still look new. You can pay more but you won’t find a better US made shoe. Aldens are very nice but their styles don’t move me. Dare to be different. Dare to be more stylish than the guy in the next office. Your boss WILL notice!

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  • Matthew

    Help: I’m pretty set on black shoes with a grey (subtle pinstripe) suit for a business meeting in NYC. I have a pair of Cole Haan Air Carter Split Toe and J&M Waverly Wingtips. My captoe isn’t in good enough shape to wear.

    Question: with a grey pin, should I wear my wingtips or split toe (or buy a new pair of shoes!)?

    Note: I’m flying out early in the AM for NYC and there’s very little selection where I’m staying this weekend. Advice? Thanks!

    • Andrew

      Hey Matthew, I’d personally go with the J&M wingtips. Best of luck with your meeting!

  • Amy

    Hey Andrew,

    Just after some advice for my fiancé & my wedding. We are having grey suits (because I have always LOVED them & find them much more attractive then black!). My fiancé is wearing a light grey & the groomsmen are in a darker shade, deep grey but not quite charcoal. It’s a rustic/vintage wool shed farm wedding in Australia. I like brown shoes! Not black! :) I’m getting resistance from the men though. What shades do you recommend? A lighter chestnut brown for the light grey suit & a deeper antique brown for the darker grey suits? Or can I pair the deeper antique brown (the colour I prefer) with the light grey as well? Would it look funny for the groom to have the same shoes as the 6 groomsmen even though he is in a lighter grey suit?


    I really don’t want boring black shoes! They are wearing off-white shirts, grey suspenders & grey knit ties with grey herringbone caps as well if that helps picture it. The bridesmaids are in different styles & colours in their short dresses as well so it’s not a normal ‘everyone match’ wedding. Bit more ‘casual elegance’ than traditional formal wedding.


    • Andrew

      Amy, Congrats on the wedding, and a great question. My instinct is you should matc the chestnut brown with the light great and the deeper brown with the darker gray. There are a lot of variations in browns and grays though, so you may be able to make it work with everyone wearing the same color.

      Perhaps a compromise would be to go for a shoe in a burgundy color, that will look great with a light gray and deep gray suit. Check out these shoes from Allen Edmonds and click on Merlot burnished calf under color.

  • Marcin


    Help, please: I have invitation for Christmas evening in Embassy (central European country Embassy) in the UK.

    Do set of the grey 3 piece suit (what I love), dark blue shirt, brown shoes (or black) and black-grey tie is appropriate for the occasion? Colors are similar like on the photos above.

    I don’t like dark (black, navy etc) suits but know some guys said that dark after the dark.

    Thanks for help

  • Marcin


    There is no information about the dress on the invitation.


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  • onazi

    Please I need to know if a white shoe would match a grey suit

  • Daniel

    I just want to say i bought shoes that look exactly like these do this weekend for $22 (50% off of $44) at db shoes. :) and yes they look amazing with my grey suit!

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  • Ian Nelson


    Thank you for the great article. My Indochino suit is ordered and my AE shoes are in the closet, though I went for the Weybridge in Walnut ($80 less.)

    I am struggling with a question regarding ties… what works with the above combo? I’d like to pair with a gray/silver tie, but I’m not sure if the silver will clash with the shoes. I’ve put far too much thought into this and now I can’t make a decision.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for the great site and articles, Primer is my go to resource.

    Ian N.
    Bellingham, WA

  • Abe

    been looking for a brown shoe to wear with my light and medium gray suits and fell in love with these Strands after reading the article.

    Heres my question.. most the pictures i’ve seen of the strands actually make them look a little darker/redder than when I looked at them in the store. I’m not sure if the ones in these and other pics had a particular polish applied thus changing the color a tad, but I was wondering what your experience was. Like i say, i love how they look in these pics but didn’t pull the trigger at the store when they didnt look as expected.. a bit lighter/yellowish shade. and that was at 2 different pairs.

    Thanks in advance for the time!


  • Andrew

    Hey Abe, I’d say these pictures are pretty accurate in terms of color, at least for mine.

  • Jon

    Hey Andrew, I actually have the same question as Abe (comment right above posted on 6/12) but what I think he’s trying to say is, what polish did you use on the Strands to get the darker color pictured in this article? I agree with him that when seeing them in person, they are a bit lighter than the shade you have and I’d like to darken them to achieve your same look.


    • Paul

      +1. What kind of polish did you use on them to get that burnished look in the photos?

  • Ryan

    I’m going to wear this combination to a wedding at the end of the month. I’m not sure what color(s) shirt and tie I can wear with it. My girlfriend is wearing a yellow dress and wants me to match her somehow. Any suggestions?

  • Thomas

    What socks are those?

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  • Eric Schmidt

    Bought the Strands at your advice a few months ago, and have got a compliment on them every time I’ve worn them out! They’re always from the most stylish people in the crowd as well. Thanks as always for putting out such quality material! 

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  • Camacho

    Hello, what color are the Strands in this picture?  I don’t see any color in the AE website that matches the picture.  Are those the walnut, burnished, bourbon, chili burnished, or perhaps as other mentioned a specific polished was used to achieve the color.  Thanks in advance.

  • skpro

    Those strands are in walnut, and they get darker over time if you apply conditioner and polish. Gives a nice patina.

  • Dan Haneveer

    I love the colour of these and I want to go for the gray/brown combo for our wedding. I’m not sure about the Strands as a wedding shoe though and I’m wondering how similar the colour of either the 5th and Park Avenues is.

  • Miggy

    The allen edmonds in this article are nice.. Are those walnut calf strands?

    • Daniel

      Yes, they are walnut calf.

      Here are my favorites. Definitely need to add a pair of Strands.

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  • Mike

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m not saying grey suit is wrong, I like both mid and light grey suits. What’s wrong is your image of it’s versatility. Grey suit is not acceptable to a lounge suit event. Such are weddings, baptisms and other Christian (or otherwise religious events) and all evening events that require a suit. Only acceptable suits are black, midnight blue (or dark navy) or very dark charcoal. Some say only black and midnight blue are acceptable.

    Of course the dress code for daytime weddings, especially in the summer might be informal and allow even odd jackets.

    Also, black suit is mostly proper to evening events and funerals. And navy looks more flattering on most people, especially on day events.

    • Andrew

      We’ll have to agree to disagree! I wear a light/mid gray suit to weddings all the time. For a place a black suit is required, its likely requiring something more like a tux.

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  • Steve Gordon

    Just so play the devil’s advocate, I’m going to say that “having the same shoes/watch since you were 14” is not the same thing as still regularly wearing those items. If those shoes or watch have been sitting in the closet for the last 9 years, only being brought out for 2 or 3 weddings (as they tend to for many of us) you can hardly call their age a testament to their durability.

    Saying this, I love the look of those AEs. I have a pair of cheap Italian ones that look almost exactly the same ($70 DSW), though the quality is obviously low grade. But, now that I’ve decided I like the style, I’ll definitely upgrade to something like these AEs when these ones die. I will say, despite their low price, based on 12 months of regular wear so far (1-2 times a week to work, not 1-2 weddings per lifetime), I’m still expecting another 2 years of regular wear left in them. Not bad for $70.

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